Kevin Long was hired to work with all the Phillies’ hitters as he has one of the better reputations in the game for helping hitters he works with get to the next level. There wasn’t much doubt though who he is star pupil was going to be when he arrived in Philadelphia. During his first meeting with the press, it was more than implied that Alec Bohm was at the forefront of players he needed to turn around.
In his introductory Zoom conference Wednesday, Long, who had been Girardi’s hitting coach with the Yankees before moving on to the Mets and Nationals, revealed that he will be in Clearwater next week to begin work with Bohm. The 25-year-old third baseman has a residence in Clearwater and will spend much of the offseason at the Phillies’ facility, working on his offense and defense. And if Bohm is an early focus of Long’s, he will also be an early focus for the team’s new infield coach, presumed to be Bobby Dickerson.
“So, Alec is a big part of the Philadelphia Phillies and us winning a championship, as is every other player. I saw him in 2020 and he was one of the best hitters in the league. It’s my job to figure out what was going on then and try to get him back to that high level of performance.”
We all knew it that Bohm needed help. After his impressive debut during the pandemic 2020 season, he completely cratered in 2021, finishing with a .247/.305/.342 line in 417 plate appearances and playing a defense so bad, the team preferred that Ronald Torreyes be there instead of Bohm on most nights.
He started off this season without much confidence from then manager Joe Girardi, entering into some kind of quasi-platoon with Johan Camargo at third base that saw him starting only four of the first nine games he appeared in. It was strange to see since he was hitting the ball quite well at the time (Camargo, for the record, also was hitting well, going 13 for his first 34), but Girardi was valuing the defensive upgrade Camargo brought over the offensive potential Bohm could bring. Starting on April 18, Bohm entered the starting lineup for good and hasn’t been supplanted from it outside of injury and vaccination status.
At the plate, it’s been a tale of two seasons for the young third baseman, but it looks like he has turned a corner in his approach to hitting. Were we to cherry pick lumps of games, you can see how poorly he was doing and compare that to how much better he has been of late.
- April 18 - June 4: 185 PA, .227/.265/.314, 4.9 BB%, 24.3 K%, 3 HR, 15 RBI, .283 BABIP, 60 wRC+
- June 5 - July 25: 152 PA, .333/.362/.465, 3.9 BB%, 15.8 K%, 3 HR, 18 RBI, .381 BABIP, 129 wRC+
That’s a pretty stark contrast in hitting, but it’s quite obvious what the differences are. To put it simply, he’s hitting the ball more. The strikeout rate is way down, the ball is finding better places in the field and he’s driving the ball with more authority than he previously was.
It can be easy to assume that when a player is hitting like this over a time period, we chalk it up to “he’s hot!” and that’s fine. Hitters go on hitting streaks for lengthy amounts of time all of the time (look up Juan Soto before and after the All-Star break last year), but it also tends to ignore all of the behind the scenes work that they put in. In the case of Bohm, we know how much he has been working to improve from where he was last year so brushing aside this run by just saying he’s hot is sort of insulting to the work he’s done. So naturally, we ask: what’s changed this year?
The first thing I’d argue is that Bohm is having much better success this year doing the most basic thing a hitter can do: hit the fastball. There haven’t been too many changes in the way pitchers are approaching him; it’s a simple fact that he’s been better when they’re giving him the heat.
There are still issues against breaking balls and offspeed stuff as you can see, but that’s not totally uncommon for any major league hitter, let alone a younger one like Bohm. No hitter, though, can survive in major league baseball if he cannot hit the fastball and so far this year, Bohm has improved a great deal against that pitch. This improvement is also reflected in his another area.
Baseball Savant tracks how a batter performs at the plate in four different areas: the “heart” (pitches in the middle of the plate), the “shadow” zone (pitches just a bit off the strike zone), the “chase” zone (pitches that might tantalize a hitter a bit, but aren’t strikes) and the “waste” zone (pitches that aren’t even close). They look at how each player performs and assigns run values for each spot, positive values being good and negative values being bad. In 2021, Bohm wasn’t very good anywhere, but really was hurt by not capitalizing on pitches in the middle of the strike zone, something, anecdotally at least, we all remember being frustrated with.
So far in 2022, there has again been marked improvement over last year’s numbers in most of the areas that Savant is tracking, enough that you start to understand why he is performing better at the plate this year than last.
One could quibble with the fact that he still has a negative run value for pitches in the heart of the plate and that is a fair game, but my counterargument would be: how often are pitchers living in the middle of the plate? If they are, they aren’t going to be major leaguers for very long. Instead, we know pitchers like to live around the edges, meaning hitters need to be better in the “chase zone” in order to be effective major league hitters. That is where Bohm has shown the most improvement from this year to last, an encouraging sign for his development.
There is also the fact that he isn’t hitting the ball on the ground as much as he did. Under the old hitting tutelage of Joe Dillon, there were many players that saw a dramatic rise in players hitting the ball on the ground, particularly those who were younger hitters coming up through the system. We had heard a lot of talk about how Matt Vierling was a candidate to start trying to lift the ball more often, but we had looked past Bohm a little bit in that regard as well. In 2020, he hit the ball on the ground 53.2% of the time, 52.7% of the time in 2021. With modern defenses shifting and catching groundballs more often than ever before, it was an untenable way of trying to get Bohm back on track. This year, in the case of Bohm, there have been marked increases in both line drive rates (27.2% this year vs. last year) and fly ball rate (27.5% vs. 22.7%) with a concurrent drop in groundball (45.3% this year). It hasn’t translated to an increase in power (he’s still hovering at a .398 slugging percentage) as of yet, but with an assumed emphasis on making more contact this year, maybe that is the next step in his evolution as a player.
Right now, Alec Bohm is hitting as well as anyone in the league. As of July 26, he has hit safely in 19 of his last 20 games, something that many would not have predicted when the season began. The continued lack of power is disappointing, as is the low walk rate, but the fact that he has been a dependable bat over the past month and a half has been encouraging. Should he keep it up, it’ll help the lineup continue to withstand the absence of Bryce Harper and keep them on a consistent pursuit of a playoff spot.